Welsh winter wildlife - South Wales

In our country, you can see wildlife in the unlikeliest places – for instance, while Christmas shopping in Cardiff. The season of good cheer begins early here as the Wye Valley becomes a blaze of autumn colours. Find our favourite places for wildlife spotting across South Wales. Who needs New England when there’s old Wales? 

Honeycomb reef at Dunraven Bay

The rocky coast of Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan Heritage Coast

Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan Heritage Coast
There are lots of reasons to visit Dunraven Bay: the beach, the surfing, the multi-layered cliffs, the ruined clifftop castle. For the naturalist, it’s also a great place to find honeycomb reefs at low tide. They’re made by colonies of honeycombs worms, which use sand to build a series of intricate tubes to form living reefs, which in turn create a habitat for anemones, snails, crabs and seaweeds.

Salmon leaping in Bute Park

Just behind Cardiff Castle, right in the middle of our capital city, is Bute Park. It’s a vast 56-hectare park where you can go to lose yourself in tranquillity among parkland, the arboretum, nature trails and tucked-away cafes. Follow the Taff Trail along the river to Blackweir, through red-and-gold trees, where you’ll see salmon leaping upstream during late autumn.

Winter birds at Newport Wetlands

The RSPB reserve at Newport is its best in autumn and winter when migratory wildfowl and wading birds arrive for their stay. Curlews, redshanks, dunlins and oystercatchers feed on the estuary at low tide using their long, pointy beaks to sift through the mud for worms and grubs. Up to 50,000 starlings form spectacular murmurations at dusk, and you may hear the eerie booming of the resident bittern

Pied wagtails in Cardiff

Queen Street is at the pedestrianised heart of Cardiff’s shopping district, attracting flocks of shoppers to its department stores and arcades. It’s also a giant winter roost for pied wagtails: smart, sprightly little birds who gather in their thousands to huddle together in the street’s trees. If you know where to look, a Christmas shopping expedition can be a nature trek, too!

Waxcaps at Llanishen Reservoir

Olympic medallist Hannah Mills learnt to sail on Llanishen Reservoir, which was built in the 1880s to supply Cardiff with water. Its owners wanted to build more than 300 houses on the site (they drained it first, obviously…). But their plans were scuppered by a vociferous local campaign and the discovery of more than 25 species of waxcap mushrooms on the reservoir’s grassy banks (one of the rarest and most beautiful fungi).

Winter roosts at Magor Marsh

Magor Marsh is the last natural area of fenland on the Gwent Levels. It’s managed by the Gwent Wildlife Trust to preserve a precious ecological sanctuary that has hardly changed since the 14th century, with hay meadows and woodlands leading to marsh and open water, all criss-crossed by ancient reens (drainage ditches). Winter is the best time for birdwatchers, with plenty of wintering wildfowl and passing migrants, as well as a noisy chorus of roosting corvids.

Autumn colours in the Wye Valley

The lower stretch of the River Wye marks the approximate border between England and Wales, and this thickly-wooded valley is one of the loveliest in the world. Its glorious autumn colours are breathtaking. Gwent Wildlife Trust manages several woodlands and nature reserves throughout the area. 

Autumn colours in Bryngarw

Autumn foliage in Bryngarw Country Park

Bryngarw Country Park near Bridgend, Glamorgan Heritage Coast
The mansion and grounds of Bryngarw House told a familiar story of post-War decline until the 1980s, when Bridgend council hatched a plan to rescue the estate. The grounds are now a Country Park, and the five distinct areas of woodland have been superbly managed to create habitats that are not just great for wildlife, but also – especially in autumn – gorgeous to walk around.

Bittern at Cosmeston Lakes

To hear the booming of a bittern is on every naturalist’s tick-list. Judge the sound for yourself at Cosmeston near Penarth, where flooded limestone quarries have become a wildlife sanctuary, with a huge variety of species drawn to its lakes, woodland, meadows and – if you’re a bittern – its reedbeds. 

Sea watching from Lavernock Point

Lavernock Point sits right on the ‘heel’ of Wales, with stupendous cliff top views over the Bristol Channel. Marconi sent the first wireless signals across open sea from here, and it’s variously been used as a gun battery, nuclear bunker and observation point. Today, though, it’s a fine nature reserve and the local birders’ favourite spot for watching migrant birds.